On 2 December 2014, I went with a group of Filipinos to Litomerice, 64 kilometers north of Prague. which is located next to the foothills of the Sudetes mountain range in the northern part of the Czech Republic. Litomerice has a special link to the Philippines – it is the hometown of Ferdinand Blumentritt, Rizal’s close friend. On 13 May 1887, Rizal visited Blumetritt in Litomerice (it was then known as Leitmeritz, and it was part of the Austria-Hungarian empire). He spent 4 days there.
Blumentritt is recognized by the Czechs as a great intellectual, and his friendship with Rizal is celebrated. In Litomerice, the date of Rizal’s arrival is a holiday, and there are ceremonies to mark the event. The town’s Bastion (which is a tower that was part of the town’s medieval defenses) has been transformed into a Rizal-Blumentritt exhibit. There is also a small park dedicated to Rizal, where a bust of Rizal is located. We also saw a Rizal bust in the main square (at the Salva Guarda Hotel).
Litomerice has a sister-city relationship with Calamba (Rizal’s birthplace) and with Dapitan (where Rizal was exiled), in the Philippines.
Blumentritt was a very close friend of Rizal, even though they only met personally during those 4 days. They corresponded extensively, and Rizal’s last letter before his execution was addressed to Blumentritt.
The Philippine-Czech connection goes deeper. The Rizal-Blumentritt friendship was part of the interaction of emigre Filipinos with others working for their nations’ freedom. Filipinos interacted with groups from Cuba to Eastern Europe, including the Czechs – who wanted to be independent from Austria-Hungary.
If you look at the Czech flag, you will notice an uncanny resemblance to the Philippine flag. Their flag has blue triangle, and two strips of white and red. If you interchange the blue with the white, and then add a sun and stars, you will get the Philippine flag.
During World War II, when the Japanese army invaded, the Czech community was the only foreign community in Manila that volunteered to fight against the Japanese. Fourteen of them joined the Filipinos and Americans in the Battle of Bataan, and they took part in the Bataan Death March. Six survived the war.
About 3 kilometers away from Litomerice is Terezin (the Germans called it Theresienstadt). The Germans converted this fortress town into a Jewish ghetto, and the town’s prison into a concentration camp. The Terezin camp was only a transit camp, and executions were not done en masse; however, lots of people died there, mainly from disease and exhaustion.
Rosa Delma Machanova, a Filipina from Romblon, works as a guide in Terezin’s camp. She gave us an animated explanation while we toured the camp, including details about the cruelty of the camp commander, escape attempts, how prisoners were forced to kill other prisoners, etc.
After the war, the camp chief was imprisoned in Terezin while awaiting his trial and eventual execution.
Terezin was also where Gavrilo Princip, whose murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand triggered World War I, was imprisoned.